Why Targeting Selective Perception Captures Immediate Attention


People are unique, and everyone sees the world differently.

Present two people with identical items and you’ll get two different perceptions about the packaging and material.

One man sees Pledge, an outstanding furniture polish, and the other man sees a can of spray no different from any other furniture polish. One woman sees a luxurious Gucci purse, and the other sees an overpriced bag to hold keys and makeup.

Selective perception is what makes consumers process stimuli most relevant to their needs and evaluation. And we each do this continually in a process called perceptual vigilance.

In short, we watch out for what matters most to us.

We use perception vigilance continually. We see what we want to see – usually the stimuli that relates to our lives or that reinforces our beliefs. We filter out the rest; we already have enough to deal with.

Then we experience an event that triggers a change.

Wow, Where’d All These Come From?

Have you ever bought a car? You brought the car home, drove it around for a day or two, and you suddenly noticed how many other people own cars just like yours.

How about a baby? Women who become pregnant suddenly realize how many other women are pregnant. Then the baby arrives, and new fathers find themselves seeing other new fathers with babies everywhere they go.

In the market for a new computer? You might be noticing advertisements for computers all over the place.

We never noticed these similarities before. Now we do. Where did all those cars and pregnant women and babies come from?

They were always there. We just didn’t see them, because our selective perception filtered them out. A trigger event woke us up, changing our perception and we suddenly notice what we never saw before.

The Awakening and Your Marketing

Trigger events are important to marketing because they are opportunity. Salespeople, copywriters and marketing pros can all tap into the power of triggers.

Focus marketing on a target group who has recently experienced a trigger event, and watch what happens.

Right now, just after a trigger event, the group’s selective perception is noticing similarities. People are realizing, “Hey! That’s just like me!”

They’re paying attention. Don’t miss your chance.

Use words, images or concepts that directly relate to the trigger event of this group. It makes everything pop. If the stimuli relates to their lives just after a trigger event, these people are more likely to become customers, too.

So capture their attention while you have it. Shout out the similarities. Address their newfound perception and tap into the window of opportunity you have.

Eventually, of course, people move on. They acknowledge the similarity and start to see it as commonplace, not new and exciting. They begin to filter the stimuli out. The new car isn’t anything special. The pregnancy passes. The baby gets absorbed into the family.

That’s okay. They aren’t your target audience anymore.

About the Author: For more tips from James Chartrand on hitting the target with the right words to trigger a reaction, shoot over to Men With Pens, where he’ll teach you pro writing techniques Better yet, go marksman, and get the Men with Pens feed.

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Reader Comments (44)

  1. says

    Interesting post. It is weird how when we become focused on something you start to see it all over the place. It is like being at a crowded party and hearing just “noise” until someone says your name.

  2. patricia says

    can you give a specific work-related example? how do you identify a trigger event — or, better yet, anticipate it? I completely agree with the concept & have experienced the same thing too, but I am not sure how to apply it to my writing. Thanks!

  3. says

    What you’re referring to in the second part of your post is known as the Reticular Activating System. Now that’s it’s a part of your reality, your attention is drawn to it.

  4. says

    @patricia – A company I know sends a letter to very targeted group of people advertising its insulation services. The targeted group of people? Those who have applied for a house building permit. That’s a trigger event, not to mention a highly-targeted direct marketing strategy.

    @james – great post as usual. Not sure why you chose to go with the image of a weirdly-shaped, upside down vase with arrows on it though…


  5. says

    It’s also interesting how placing an author’s name at the beginning of an article is a trigger event as well – one that influences how good people think an article is even before they read it. It would be a neat experiment to see if people could name the Copyblogger author if the author’s name was left out.

    I’ve actually been doing this with Copyblogger articles. I purposefully ignore the author name until after I read the piece to see if the words and writing style used can trigger my brain to recognize who the writer is.

    Good piece.

  6. says

    As some others have noted, I would have liked to see this post with a little more meat on its bones. It’s not enough to say that people get pregnant and buy cars and you can take advantage of this as a copywrfiter without giving examples and saying HOW.

  7. says

    @ Buck – what’s your success rate in figuring out who the writer is? I’d be curious to hear you eval on the writing styles.

    @ patricia – I find tons of trigger evens in forums. Triggers are found in rants, problems, questions, general chat, etc. and a forum is the perfect place for me to connect with customers and identify triggers my possible customers may have. I also find them in Yahoo Answers.

    I’m sure James will have a better answer for you, though. He’s good like that.

    @ James – as usual, great post. People’s perceptions are nearly infinite in numbers. Factors include: age, race, location, experience, family influence, schooling, music, expectations, etc.

    This article (as I perceived it) is all about connecting with your customer and speaking their language.

  8. says

    Sorry, just thought of something else that relates to this topic as I was replying to a comment on my blog.

    A trigger can be initiated right from the start with the name you pick for your company: Like “Modern Landscape.”

    The word “Modern” triggers a response – or expectation/image as opposed to simply naming your company “John’s Landscape.”

    For me, when I see the word “Modern” used for a landscape company I think water-smart and synthetic grass as that’s the way things seem to be going (here in Las Vegas, anyway).

    James, any thoughts on the idea of placing triggers in your company’s name?

  9. says

    So a triggering event might be the announcement that we are restricted from carrying more than a certain amount of liquids onto an airplane and certain hotels offer complimentary concierge “grooming packs” as an enticement to stay at their hotel ?
    Or commercial airline travel becomes dangerous, security adds time draining complications. Perhaps a an aircraft manufacturer sees an opportunity and offers private jet ownership syndicates?
    Like that?

  10. says

    Janice, those are two nice examples.

    A really extreme example is the price-gouging that occurs after a crisis for necessities that are taken for granted during normal times. I’m not advocating that type of predatory marketing, but it’s the same idea of observing changes and targeting messages to people who are now seeing the world in a new way.

  11. says

    I find myself agreeing with Patricia and Daniel. I recognize that this concept exists, and have experienced it myself, but how do I take advantage of it and use it in my writing? A couple of examples would be greatly appreciated.

  12. says

    Thanks Brian. I like the concept, a lot. The trick is applying it in one’s own efforts. Goes back directly to your crossroads piece about intersections and timing to me.

  13. says

    John, exactly. Each new shift in perception presents a new opportunity. So while Exxon gloats over record profits, the Green movement gains steam from people’s own economic self-interest (among other concerns). The messages are now both accepted and sought out.

  14. says

    The key to marketing in light of selective perception is to understand the story certain groups of people want to hear *now* based on shifting circumstance and telling it. It’s an exercise in observation, which is basically the essence of all smart marketing.

  15. Barbara says


    When I go to the feed and open the new posting, I inevitably forget to read who is writing this time.

    There is a sense of comfort, security, that even without having been informed, I am certain of your authorship.

    Thanks for another good article.

  16. says

    “Use words, images or concepts that directly relate to the trigger event of this group.”

    Kind of like SEO, huh?

    By using the language of your intended audience, it enhances your overall appeal.

    Good points.

  17. says

    Although the post makes sense and I do understand the point….I’m not sure how this will translate into my blog or most other blogs.

    An example about an airplane or hotel is fine and dandy. But I would like to see a few examples how this applies to my blog, your blog, or anyone’s blog that is anything but a pure sales page.

    Live From Las Vegas
    Where Everything Sells Itself
    The Masked Millionaire

  18. says

    MM, let’s say it’s 2006. Bloggers are starting to realize that post titles, hooks, and content structure matter when it comes to getting attention, but they have no cognitive framework for these things.

    Along comes a blog called Copyblogger, where the founder recognized what people were cluing in to, even though they had no idea it was a modified version of direct-response copywriting applied to content.

    All of a sudden, perception shifts. These people not only subscribe to Copyblogger, but start buying copywriting books and courses. They understand how important the topic is now, and yet without someone spotting the beginnings of a shift in perception, it might not have happened.

    Does that help?

  19. says

    Hi everyone,

    Wow – lots of comments and discussion, which is what I love to see. Sorry that I haven’t been my usual chatty self today, but a special little girl in my life needed my love and I wanted to give it to her.

    Thank you, Brian, for fielding comments in my absence.

    To those who mention that the article lacks copywriting tips and specific how-tos, remember that knowing who to target before you write is, in itself, a copywriting tip. So is how to determine what situations might resonate most with them – and that is by knowing the trigger events they just experienced.

    Secondly, the title is “Why this captures attention” and not “How to write using trigger events as a basis.”

    But I can do specific examples:

    A CD retailer: A computer crash and all music gone, documents lost. Never lose a thing again with CDs

    A copywriter: A new business and no one to write what you need? A blog that’s empty or stale?

    Children’s socks: Did your kids complain of cold feet this year? Frostbite?

    Running shoes: Shinsplints, medical issues, backaches with no specified reason

    Toys for kids: Tired of hearing “there’ s nothing to do…”

    Bicycle wheels: Bought a new bike for the summer? Get these cool tires and make your new investment even better.

    These are very vague and small examples, but it’s as simple as that. What has your target audience experienced as a problem lately? Write with words that address THAT. Not the features, not the benefits. The problem.

    And give them the solution.

    (Hope all that made sense!)

  20. says

    “Focus marketing on a target group who has recently experienced a trigger event, and watch what happens.”

    That was a trigger event for me. I don’t care what everybody says about you, James, you’re one smart dude.

    Seriously: “knowing who to target before you write” is the one basic thing I see people missing over and over again, especially with writing for business blogs.

  21. says

    Yesterday I saw Indy race car driver Danika Patrick being interviewd on CNBC. One of the talking points brought up by the interviewer was actually her name. They discussed how the name “Danika” is now one of the fastest growing baby name trends in the US. I guess appealing to peoples’ perception of being associated with a winner.

  22. says

    I see numerous comments on how to identify the specific ‘Trigger Events’ for a business.

    I’m not sure if providing a resources here is proper etiquette or not. But in the hopes it is I wrote an article you can find at http://www.TriggerEventSelling.com that explains a process called ‘Won Sales Analysis’.

    A simple analysis of past customers can identify the ‘Trigger Events’ that lead up to your biggest wins and point you in the right direction to replicate your biggest wins.

  23. says

    Oh yes, I’ve experienced exactly that after I bought my car. Interesting how the brain works without us even telling it what to do. Hmmm, I wonder what else it’s up to. Hmmm, maybe a future topic for my blog…

    Anyway, loved the topic. Thank you for a great post that’s got me thinking.

  24. says

    This phenomenon is absolutely fascinating. I experienced first-hand at the age of 7, immediately after obtaining my first pair of glasses!

    Although it seemed like suddenly there were many more people sporting eyeglasses, the only thing that had changed was my perception.

    Good post.

  25. says

    Great article. As a buyer you don’t even realize how smart marketers recognize the events or situations that trigger you to make a buying decision. As a seller when you identify those triggers and position yourself to be in the right place at the right time when those trigger events happen you get an immediate stream of ready buyers.

  26. says

    what a great post! i never thought of it before. it’s all true though…just bought a car and now I am seeing the same one everywhere!

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